Why a Supreme Court ruling may help curb corruption

A Supreme Court ruling that further lifts curbs on money in politics is a reminder of why global efforts against corruption must be grass roots.

Shaun McCutcheon, a business owner who wanted to donate to multiple candidates, stands in front of the Supreme Court in Washington Sept. 13 when his case was heard. He won in a ruling Wednesday.

What is the most discussed problem in the world? A BBC poll in 2010 found it was corruption. That may help explain not only the string of recent protests for honesty in government from Tunisia to Ukraine but also recent rulings in the United States on laws designed to prevent corruption in Congress.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court lifted yet another legal restriction on money in federal campaigns. Contributors will no longer be limited to an aggregate limit of $123,200 over a two-year election cycle. A five-justice majority did uphold the current $2,600 donation to each candidate in primary and general elections, saying this restriction is permissible in order to curb a lawmaker’s potential interest in doing specific favors for a particular donor – or even the appearance of such corruption. But corruption is unlikely when a donor gives the same $2,600 to a number of political candidates or groups. Such broad limits on contributions deny political expression, or free speech.

“The only type of corruption that Congress may target is quid pro quo corruption,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. “The Government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.”

The ruling will likely now allow wealthy donors to put more money into political campaigns, just as a 2010 court ruling known as Citizens United opened a door for corporations to spend money on political advertising. Combined, the two decisions should compel voters to act in countering the influence of money in campaigns. 

Justice Roberts even suggested ways to do that. One is to require better disclosure of contributions, which may deter corruption by shining a light on the donors. Today’s digital technology, he said, now offers “more robust protections against corruption” than during the 1970s when campaign-finance laws were passed.

He also cited a 1971 ruling that the protection of free speech, which includes most political spending, helps put “the decision as to what views shall be voiced largely into the hands of each of us ... in the belief that no other approach would comport with the premise of individual dignity and choice upon which our political system rests.”

In other words, it is up to voters to properly judge political ads paid with campaign donations, to not be apathetic in voting, and to keep in touch with their representatives.

Fighting corruption, or at the least undue influence of money in politics, requires more of a grass-roots effort than a top-down one. That is the lesson from a two-decade global fight against corruption by such groups as Transparency International. Frank Vogl, a founder of TI and author of the book “Waging War on Corruption,” says the world may be at a tipping point in mass movements to force transparency and accountability in government. Laws, treaties, and civil society groups are helping – led by people “driven by a sense of what is right” – but bottom-up action by citizens makes a bigger difference.

“My journey over the last two decades across the roads of corruption-fighting have shown me that at its core this is a battle about human dignity and self-respect,” he said in a speech last year.

Instead of being the most discussed global debate, perhaps corruption in government is becoming the most acted upon.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Why a Supreme Court ruling may help curb corruption
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today